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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mighty Mites keep kids active, draw crowds to Monett

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cold but spirited, these fourth grade Mighty Mites cheerleaders put on smiling faces as they rooted on their team at Saturday's play-off game at Burl Fowler Stadium.
(Times Photo by Murray Bishoff)
Saturday morning was cool with intermittent showers in Monett. There were few cars downtown and even fewer people at the YMCA. Burl Fowler Stadium, on the other hand, was a beehive of activity.

It was second and third place play-off day for the Mighty Mites football program and from morning into the late afternoon, hundreds of people came and went, watching and cheering small boys and young cheerleaders excelling at their game.

Around the edges of the big event could be found the future of the program. On the practice field to the west of the stadium even smaller children could be found running with the football in formation.

According to Patty Kyle, the coach of one team, the Monett YMCA flag football program provides youngsters in kindergarten through second grade with an introduction to the game of football. No scores are kept. Kyle called participation a learning experience, as much for fun as to learn the game for later Mighty Mites play.

"I love it," said Kyle, who coached for the first time this year. "I get excitement out of it,"

Along the sidelines parents and grandparents sat in lawn chairs, carrying umbrellas and bundled against the morning breeze. Their faces showed more intensity than the players, whose focus was more on keeping track of the game and what to do next.

Moving into the stadium, the atmosphere turned more serious. Unlike the YMCA players, the Mighty Mites players wore colorful uniforms and football equipment. Their coaches had them organized into distinctive offensive and defensive squads. Both teams had their own cheerleading squads, and fans gathered in groups based on their affiliation.

Mighty Mites offers play for third through sixth graders. The season runs for five weeks. Last Saturday was the one day for play-offs with winners advancing to Superbowl action next week in Reeds Spring. Teams from Cassville, Mt. Vernon and Reeds Spring came to Monett to play.

"Life is a lot like football," said Keith Parris, one of the sixth grade coaches who served as announcer on Saturday. "You get knocked down, and you've got to get back up. There are good times and bad times. We teach them the game of life."

Almost all of the coaches have played football at some level, Parris said. They enjoy being with young people teaching the skills to enjoy the game at an older age.

"Several of us work at the Juvenile Office," Parris said. "This gives us the opportunity to see kids in a better light and mentor them in a positive manner. Active kids don't get in trouble as much as kids who are not involved."

Sean Kelley, the league president, also served as defensive coach for the fourth grade team. In his third year with the program, Kelley has had success in upgrading the league's resources, including getting new purple helmets for the players.

"I think the community gives a lot of support," Kelley said.

Each team has around 30 players and 20 cheerleaders, bringing together a lot of families to participate. Kelley estimated each of the four games played on Saturday at the stadium attracted 200 to 300 people.

"People just come out to support the kids instead of watching TV at home. Here they're doing something constructive. It's a good deal," Kelley said.

The size of the crowd was reflected in the number of volunteers needed to support the effort at the concession stand. The concessions coordinator said he likes to have a minimum of six volunteers helping on game day. On Saturday a church group provided the staffing.

The Monett Booster Club runs the concession stand but allows the Mighty Mite program to use the building. The crew for the Mighty Mite games started at 9 a.m. and would stay busy until the end of the last game.

According to the coordinator, the Mighty Mite program is obligated to restock the concession stand and clean it at the end of the day. At the end of the season the Booster Club provides the Mighty Mites with a percentage of the sales.

For Ashley Pyle, on hand to watch his fourth grade son Hunter play, the experience offers Hunter a chance to learn teamwork, get exercise and gain from camaraderie with other players.

"They have fun. It's not too serious," Pyle said.

As for what he gets out of it, Pyle said, "It's the joy of watching him succeed and trying hard. There are not a lot of after-school programs. Too many young people are left to run the streets."

Mighty Mites can be a big commitment for some families. Judy Allcock came to watch grandsons Luke, Tyler and Dakota play on third, fourth and sixth grade teams. Two sisters of the players participate as cheerleaders.

"We make a family affair of it," Allcock said. "We all enjoy it very much. We'll be back next year."

Julie Wages, Cheryl Webb and Donna Meyer volunteered their time to teach jumps, cheers, dances and spirit to their fourth grade cheerleaders. Fun was again the main goal of their efforts.

"They're learning memory skills and talents they can use later on," said Meyer. "I love doing it. The girls are great."

"Pride in school is the beginning of having pride in the community," said Parris. "This program gives kids the opportunity to have school pride. They wear their jerseys to school on Friday and they're proud of it. They grow up to be the future of the community."

Advancing to Saturday's Superbowl at Reeds Spring High School will be the Cassville third graders, the Reeds Spring fourth graders, the Monett fifth graders and the Mt. Vernon sixth graders.

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